Even without refrigeration, you can keep fresh veggies for a surprising amount of time by following a few simple rules.

Storing Veggies without Refrigeration

Even if your boat has refrigeration, storing some of your vegetables outside the refrigerator helps considerably with the problem of “my refrigerator’s not large enough!”  And if you don’t have a refrigerator, well, you have to store them otherwise.

The good news is that with a bit of care, many vegetables can be stored anywhere from a week to a month or sometimes even more.  No, not everything will last that long — but enough will that you can still have some fresh veggies to mix with the canned!

Buying Vegetables

Having veggies last a reasonable amount of time without refrigeration actually begins with how you choose the vegetables in the first place.  This is probably the most important part of the process and the one usually overlooked.  I’ve learned my lesson the hard way — you simply can’t go into the grocery store, walk to the produce section, grab the first thing you see and expect to be able to keep it for any length of time without refrigeration.

A few simple principles:

  • Buy never-refrigerated veggies. These are most often available at farmer’s markets or on veggie trucks.  Once something has been refrigerated, it needs to stay refrigerated, or it will quickly go bad.  My experience is that produce that’s been refrigerated has less than half the life outside the refrigerator of something that has never been refrigerated.  Below, when I talk of how long something will last, I’m talking about items that have never seen the inside of a refrigerator.
  • Be very picky. Pick over individual items and don’t accept any that are bruised, rotten, overripe, have insect holes or look “old.”  Only the freshest, most perfect veggies will do.
  • Don’t buy too much. If you buy more than can comfortably fit in your storage areas, your vegetables will get bruised as put try to fit the extras in.  Be realistic about how much room you have.
  • Transport the veggies gently. If you’re carrying them in a backpack, bring along some towels to pad the veggies and don’t cram them in.  If you’re going by cab, make sure nothing will fall on them and they won’t roll around.  You don’t want to bruise them before they even get to the boat!

Bringing Veggies Aboard

To wash, or not to wash?  You’ll find cruisers who are adamantly in both camps.  The argument for washing is to get any critters off before they cause damage or infest other food, and also to have food ready to use when you want it.  The argument against it is that produce lasts longest with the least handling and left in the dirt it was pulled from.  Both sides have merit.

In general, I wash my veggies whether I’m putting them into the refrigerator or into gear hammocks.  Even at farmer’s markets, I’ve rarely found produce that hasn’t been washed at least once, so it’s not in its own dirt.  BUT if you wash it, you have to get it totally dry before storing it.  Even in ventilated bins or gear hammocks, it won’t totally dry if put in damp — it will just start to rot.

And as you put things away — specifics on this below — double check each item to make sure it’s in good condition.  I usually find an item or two that need to be eaten right away, which can be worked into the dinner menu.

Storage Basics

Storage areas need to be well-ventilated, dry and as dark as possible.  Bins need to be something that can be easily washed — plastic works the best as you can use bleach on it and it dries quickly.  Wire baskets and gear hammocks cause “pressure points” that will bruise, so these need to be well padded.  That said, gear hammocks are generally good for storing veggies if they can be hung in locations where they won’t bump into anything in rough seas, but will just swing unencumbered.

Additionally, the bins and other storage containers need to be located where you can see into them to check on the produce daily.  If you see something that’s bruised, put it on the dinner menu.  Anything that you missed and is now rotting or molding needs to be thrown out immediately — and the container wiped out with bleach.

In general, I don’t store non-refrigerated produce in plastic bags — they simply trap any moisture and the food rots.  I’ve tried the “green bags” and had the same results.

Storage Specifics for Different Vegetables

Fresh garlic. Do NOT put in plastic.  Will last a month or more.

Onions. Store in a dark, dry area to keep them from sprouting.  Do not store onions and potatoes together as the potatoes will sprout.

Potatoes. See my article on Storing Potatoes — store both white potatoes and sweet potatoes the same way.

Cabbage. Keep cool.  Cabbage will last several weeks as long as you protect it from bruising too much.  Lettuce does not keep well, so cabbage becomes the “salad staple” for cruisers.

Tomatoes. Buy them in varying stages of ripeness to greenness.  Either store them in a dark place or wrap with paper towels or newspaper or stick them in tube socks — they need darkness to ripen.  Unwrap when ripe and use within two days (by buying in various stages, you can have a supply for two weeks or more).

Avocados. They are fairly susceptible to bruising.  The best I found to store them was to put them in tube socks, then in a gear hammock on top of “sturdy” produce such as potatoes or onions.  If you buy them in varying stages of ripeness — with some still rock-hard — you can enjoy them over a week or more.

Carrots and celery. Wrap in aluminum foil, but don’t totally seal the packet, leave little openings at the end for moisture to escape (otherwise, they’ll just rot).  They may dry out some, so rejuvenate in water.  They’ll easily last one week, often 2 weeks or more.

Cucumbers and green peppers. Pad these well so they don’t bruise, and they will last at least a week; often two weeks.

Summer squash and zucchini. Small ones last much better than larger ones; they will last 10 days or sometimes longer.  If they are starting to wilt a bit, use them in a cooked dish instead of eating raw — you won’t notice that they’re not crisp.

Broccoli and cauliflower. These can both last a week, providing they’ve never been refrigerated.  For some reason, they seem to be really quick to spoil if they’ve ever been refrigerated and are then taken out of it.  Broccoli may get a little yellow and cauliflower may get some black spots — just cut both out.  And as with summer squash, if either is starting to wilt, use it in a cooked dish and it won’t be noticeable.

Lettuce. My experience with lettuce is that it is so susceptible to bruising, which then quickly causes rot, that it’s best to eat it within a day or two of buying it.

My Storing Veggie Quick Reference Guide

Storing Veggies without Refrigeration Quick ReferenceA while back, I made a cheat sheet for storing veggies without refrigeration — notes on how to store various things and how long they’ll last. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg as far as storing food without refrigeration goes, but I’m happy to share it.


Even without refrigeration, you can keep fresh veggies for a surprising amount of time by following a few simple rules.

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  • Bruce Bibee
    Posted at 25 May 2011 Reply

    OK, same stupid question – can stuff be rinsed in clean sea water (ie, not from a marina or harbor). It would seem like this would save fresh water and be doubly effective on possible pathogens as they have never been in contact with salt water before.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 May 2011 Reply

      Bruce —

      I’ve never tried it and I wouldn’t.

      Basically, I’ll give the same answer I always do when you suggest using sea water — I really hate to say it, because I love the oceans, but I don’t think there is such a thing as “clean sea water” — look at the huge islands of plastic out in the Pacific and so forth. Lots of contaminants make their way into the oceans, unfortunately.

      Even if it were “clean,” sea water naturally contains lots of microorganisms that will get on your food and then start multiplying. Dunk a rag into sea water and set it out — it’s going to get very nasty in a few days! Do you want that to happen to your food?

      And with the salt in the water, you can’t get the veggies to dry out totally before putting them away — and damp food rots.


  • Suzanne C
    Posted at 03 June 2013 Reply

    Rinsing fruit and veggies in a mixture of white vinegar and water seems to make them last a whole lot longer. I initially tried this with raspberries and have continued to do the same solution with all my fruits and veggies before storing and have noticed a significant life span increase.

    • Monique Davis
      Posted at 04 June 2013 Reply

      May I ask the ratio of vinegar and water? We are about to push off on a five month journey and I would love to be able to extend the life of my produce.

      Thank you!
      s/v Paragon

      • Suzanne C
        Posted at 05 June 2013 Reply

        Monique, honestly I have no idea. I just fill the sink up with water and dump a bunch of vinegar in. Guessing, I would say a 1 to 10 mixture. Sorry I can’t be more precise but I was never one to measure things – I just eyeball it.

        • Jeff
          Posted at 18 June 2013 Reply

          Monique and Suzanne.

          Suzanne is spot on. a mixture of 1 to 10 is fine. No more molding raspberries, rotting strawberries and the like. I believe the same mixture could be used for almost amy “cleaning” of any food stuff. The acid in the vinegar kills off lots of spoors. What has worked best for me is a small bowl filled about 1/2 way with water. About an eighth of a cup of vinegar and then dump in the berries. Swish them around and then I put them back into their “vented” plastic containers. they dry well, don’t mold, and you can’t taste the vinegar either.

  • Michelle Rene
    Posted at 04 October 2015 Reply

    Great details!

  • Rory Finneren
    Posted at 05 October 2015 Reply

    Great info on here! Kara

  • Jason Gard
    Posted at 05 October 2015 Reply

    Kinchie Pan we may have to get rid of the fridge!!

  • Liz
    Posted at 29 July 2016 Reply

    If u wash lettuce in cold water and dry well in a salad spinner and then store it in a plastic airtight container it will last at least a week, and still be crisp… it works every time. 🙂

  • Deanna Roozendaal
    Posted at 09 August 2016 Reply

    Finding fresh veggies is often the greater issue, here in the South Pacific. Are they plentiful where you’re sailing, Carolyn?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 10 August 2016 Reply

      Not here in the Bahamas, but when we were in the Sea of Cortez, they were fantastic.

  • Janet Burch
    Posted at 10 August 2016 Reply

    What about fruit flies? I had tomatoes out on the counter as usual but within a few days the little monsters showed up. I HATE to put tomatoes into the refrigerator but also hate fruit flies. We are in Maine.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 10 August 2016 Reply

      I’ve only had problems with fruit flies when I’ve had some blemished tomatoes or ones with split skin. If I notice fruit flies I carefully check over all my produce and usually find something that’s attracting them. You can try this solution to get rid of fruit flies.

  • Dave Skolnick
    Posted at 10 August 2016 Reply

    I have a separate issue: remembering what I have. *grin* CRS. Accordingly, I’ll often keep veg, especially veg approaching end of life, in a basket on the counter. This is entirely to keep them in front of my face so I’ll use them.

  • Claire Bradley
    Posted at 19 August 2016 Reply

    Another way of storing carrots, beetroot, celeriac, swedes, turnips and winter radishes is to store them in sand. To prevent shrivelling in vegetables which lose moisture such as carrots, celeriac, swedes and beetroot, store the roots in layers of moist sand or peat-substitute in boxes, in a frost-free, dark place such as a shed or cellar. I tried storing carrots in sand one winter and they kept for absolutely ages (months). No idea if it would work on a yacht but might be worth a try. Given that boats are quite moist places anyway, I would just put them in sand, and let the sand absorb the moisture on the boat, and keep your veg plump at the same time.

  • Josh Wilkinson
    Posted at 18 July 2017 Reply

    I’ve read most of the vegetables we refrigerate don’t even need to be refrigerated and will actually last longer not being refrigerated.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 18 July 2017 Reply

      Generally, they take a bit of special attention but yes, some do last far longer without refrigeration.

  • Becky
    Posted at 12 January 2018 Reply

    Someone noted that since grocery stores need to store their veggies in a way that will make them last as long as possible, next time you buy them, look at how THEY display them. –I’ve kept my tomatoes out of the fridge, and will now try to re-train myself to keep the broccoli and other veggies out of the fridge too—but it will be hard to break myself of that habit!

  • Paul Truscott
    Posted at 13 January 2018 Reply

    You mention not storing Onions and Potatoes ‘together. Do you mean not in the same bag or not in the same food hammock? We have been storing them in separate bags but in the same hammock without issue so far (but then we don’t have large amounts so they get used up pretty quickly).

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 13 January 2018 Reply

      The closer they are together, the more problems. I try to keep them in separate bins, but if that can’t work, keeping them apart in the hammock — say at opposite ends — will do better than if they’re next to each other. Sometimes, it just comes down to available space — and yes, the problem is worse if you’re trying to keep them for several weeks to months as both onions and potatoes are some of the longest-lasting “fresh” produce for long passages.

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